Hitler meme's downfall. And YouTube's? ~ Brand Mix

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hitler meme's downfall. And YouTube's?

YouTube is removing all the parodies it can find of Downfall (Der Untergang), the award winning film by Oliver Hirschbiegel about the last days of Hitler's regime. Hilter's famous rant scene in that movie has become a meme that's spawned hundreds of variations, each featuring fake subtitles on various topics applied to the original clip (e.g. the leaking of the iPhone).

German movie production company Constantin Film says that the clips are an infringement of its copyright and has asked YouTube to remove them. It can find all of these parody clips using Content ID, a new tool supplied by YouTube. This tool lets copyright holders track user uploaded versions of their content and decide whether or not to block them, monetize them with ads or track viewing metrics.

Here's the perfect response to Constantin Films decision, perfect both in its content and the fact that it has been posted to Funny or Die, a source of video material that will benefit from YouTube's current stance. It has strong but appropriate language:

Favorite quote: "I bring massive appeal and awareness to a film that had a niche demographic and this is how you repay me?" (And, as one of the YouTube Hitler parody channels pointed out, the meme has generated lots of dvd sales for the original movie as well.)

This is not a good outcome. As online rights advocates are pointing out, these videos are good examples of "fair use," a legal provision that allows copyrighted material to be used for purposes such as satire or parody. Even though YouTube does allow parody creators a chance to appeal content removal, its Content ID tool has significantly shifted the balance of power back to copyright owners. This will reduce the creation and distribution of future fair use memes (until people find other outlets, which is the likely result).

This is not a case where the artists themselves are upset about the manipulation of their content. Director of the movie Oliver Hirschbiegel told the New York magazine back in January: "Someone sends me the links every time there's a new one. Many times the lines are so funny, I laugh out loud, and I’m laughing about the scene that I staged myself! You couldn't get a better compliment as a director. I think it's only fair if now it's taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like."

He's right. Constantin Film is wrong. And YouTube/Google is in an uncomfortable we-just-make-the-guns-we-don't-control-how-people-use-them position that doesn't fit well with its "Don't be Evil' company pledge.

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